Tuesday, November 27, 2001

It isn’t often an NFL team wins its division without having an offense, but the Redskins are giving it a heck of a shot. Do you realize if they keep putting up points at their current pace a mere 14.1 a game they could wind up the lowest-scoring playoff team in, oh, 65 years?
That’s right, you’d have to go back to the 1936 Boston Redskins of Cliff Battles and Turk Edwards to find a club that made the postseason with less offensive firepower (12.4 points a game). And I’m pretty sure that was before the invention of the football. In those days, I think, the game was played with a live pig.
Not that there’s anything wrong with scoring 14.1 points a game and qualifying for the playoffs. In fact, it’s pretty amazing kind of like seeing Europe on $9 a day. An incredible thriftiness is required, an almost Scrooge-type economy.
After the Redskins upset the Eagles on Sunday, I asked Robert Jones if the team could keep grinding out the wins 17-14, 17-10, 13-3 week after week. “The only thing we can do as a defense is take care of our part,” he said. “I firmly believe our offense is going to find a way to put more points on the board. But if it can’t, we’ll just keep doing our jobs.”
When the same question was put to Marty Schottenheimer yesterday, he answered thusly: “It would be great if we could score a few more points. But one of the reasons the defense has been playing so well is that it hasn’t had to play as much. And that’s because the offense has been running the ball better and holding onto it longer.”
The man has a point there. While Tony Banks and Co. haven’t been lighting up the scoreboard, they have been eating up the clock and giving the D more rest. Against the Eagles, their time of possession was nearly 38 minutes. Against the Broncos, it was more than 33. Against the Seahawks it was over 39. When old-timers like Bruce Smith and Marco Coleman get that much of a blow, they can rush the passer all day long.
The offense’s ability to control the ball also helps explain why the Redskins have been so good at holding leads in the fourth quarter. The defense is simply fresher in the late going, better able to fend off a last-ditch assault. At least, that’s my theory.
Schottenheimer’s offense is quite a contraption, you have to admit. It has more in common with the Wright Brothers than with the high-tech X-and-O-ing of Joe Gibbs and Norv Turner. Just about everything the Redskins do offensively these days is by committee. In Philly, they had Stephen Davis and Ki-Jana Carter sharing the running load. In Denver, they had Banks and Kent Graham splitting time at quarterback (after Tony got conked on the head). Almost every week, it seems, they have a new receiving star (Rod Gardner, Michael Westbrook, Derrius Thompson, Zeron Flemister). Somehow, they’ve jury-rigged their way to five straight victories.
Sooner or later, though, they’re going to have to score more than 17 points to win a game against the Bears, maybe, or the Saints and you wonder if they’ll be up to it. Opponents are sure to try different defensive strategies in the weeks ahead, stuff aimed at shutting down Davis and forcing Banks to pass, and such tactics gave the Redskins fits earlier in the season. (For one thing, they made it harder for them to hang onto the ball and keep their own defense off the field.)
It’s no exaggeration to say that, right now, the Redskins are playing Super Bowl defense. They have three cornerbacks who can cover, a linebacker (LaVar Arrington) who can chase down any ball carrier and a pass rush that isn’t half-bad, either. But if they want to keep this improbable dream going, the offense needs to do more than play keep-away with the ball. It needs to stick it in the end zone a few times.
By the way, the playoff team that has scored the fewest points since the ‘36 Redskins is the ‘78 Falcons (240, or 15 per game). Remember them? They had Steve Bartkowski at QB, Bubba Bean at running back and Wallace Francis at wideout. Now there’s a trio for you.
At their present rate, this year’s Redskins will total 226, so obviously, they’ve got some scoring to do. You’ve gotta hand it to them, though. They’re determined to make history this season one way or another. Six weeks ago, when they were off to one of the worst starts of any NFL club ever, it looked like they were going to make the bad kind of history, the kind that gets coaches fired and players released. But after following a five-game losing streak with a five-game winning streak, they have a chance to make a different kind of history.
Go, Redskins. We want a field goal.

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